Sermon for 7.26.15: What We Need To Know

(I was a guest speaker at my church today;  here's what I had to say:)

Full disclosure here, when I said I would speak today, I *thought* I had a great idea for a sermon.  The more I tried to write, the more it lead nowhere and fell apart.  And then one day while I was on Facebook, I came across this great link shared by a friend of my family's who just happens to be an Episcopalian Priest.  This link was for an article/blog  written by another Episcopalian Priest and was entitled 6 Things That People Need to Hear From Churches But Are Rarely Said.  I really liked what the Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr had to say and wanted to share his thoughts with you, but add my own spin.  Because I don't necessarily think that they are things that people need to hear; it is what they need to KNOW and to Feel when they come to First Presbyterian Church.

1.       Welcome!”  Rev. Schmidt says:  "A welcome is not just something offered at the front door.  It’s not just about a few words at the front door.  It’s a smile.  It’s warmth.  It’s ease with the stranger.  It’s not something that the visitor hears.  It is something that the visitor senses.  Welcome is a state of mind that embraces newcomers.  The visitor concludes, “I could belong here.”

When you think about it, how important are our greeters?  For a newcomer who comes in either the front door (and you'd have to be a newcomer to use that door!) or from the parking lot, the greeter is the first person who you might speak to.  That smile and handshake could make or break a visitor's experience at our church.  I know I take it for granted.  But for someone who might have walked in for the first time today, today's greeter, Dan IS the face of our church.  Being welcomed by our usher, Marion  and seeing her smile is more important than any words I might have to say.  If you have served as a greeter/usher or will serve, know that what might be viewed as a simple, easy duty could have more influence on a person than anything else in this church.
Feeling welcomed doesn't only pertain to "newbies."  Every time we come to this place we should feel welcome and as members of the church as we share the peace we also remind each other that this is a welcoming place for all.  Every smile that we share, can make each of us feel more at home, no matter how long we've been attending this church.  Maybe today is the day to say hello and welcome someone you might not ordinarily speak to; remember to welcome all, even if you think everyone should know that they are welcomed
Being in the choir, I thought I knew Peggy's talent.  Listening to her sing, it is fairly obvious, but I didn't know of another talent she has until Minister of Music suddenly left us.  Peggy is a wiz at leading and organizing the choir; keeping us together like glue during a time when it would have been all too easy to fall apart. 

Of course if you come in through the Pine Street entrance, one of the first people you are most likely to meet would be our church sexton, Andy.  The same would be true if you came to our church just about any day of the week that was NOT Sunday.  Andy's welcoming presence in this church cannot be under estimated.  For many people, past and present, Andy IS the First Presbyterian Church.   

#2. As per Rev. Schmidt: “You can find God here.”  The service should suggest the presence of the transcendent God.  Not the remote, prime mover-God who winds up the world and exits stage right.  Not a God who is the ghost in the machine.  Not a cosmic buddy.  What people need to know is that the Holy is here, present and tangible.

Do you feel it when you walk into this sanctuary? It's not one specific thing, but a combination of things that makes me feel God's presence.  Which is why every part, every person involved is the service is so important.  Would we be able to find God here without a sermon?  Without prayer?  Without music?  If anyone who enters this sanctuary on a Sunday does not feel or know that God is here, then we have a serious problem.

# 3 & 4 I'm tying together. “What do you feel God is calling you to do?” & How can we help you make that calling possible?”
Too many people who enter our doors hear us say, “We are glad you are here.  These are the gaps in our ‘org chart.’  Which job would you like to do?”  What people need to hear instead is the open-ended question, “What do you feel God is calling you to do?”  That question will make life in the church elastic, changing, ever shifting.  Ministries will come and go.  But the work that the church does will be integrally related to the lives of those who join our communities.

The church of the future will be led by people with the instincts of a spiritual director.  Leaders will need to be alive to the movement of God’s Spirit in the lives of those who attend their churches and they will want to know, “How can we help?”

Everyone here has their own special talents and no two are exactly alike.  We have been recently blessed to have Diane come on board as our Director of Music.  Listening to her it's fairly obvious what her talents are. We are blessed that she has returned and chosen to share that talent with us.

Each of us has a talent and each of us has something to offer.  Don't be afraid to speak up and use that talent.  As it says in Matthew:  "You are salt for the earth. But if salt loses its taste, how will it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14"You are light for the world. A city cannot be hidden when it is located on a hill. 15No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. Instead, everyone who lights a lamp puts it on a lamp stand. Then its light shines on everyone in the house. 16In the same way let your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven."  Let your light shine and your talents show.  If you can sing, join us in the choir.  If you can cook, help out with Sunday Suppers or coffee hour.  Whatever your talent is, even if you think it is small and unimportant, I can assure you it is not.  Organization is a talent. Cleaning is a talent. Making good coffee is a talent and I'm sure lots of coffee drinkers out there would agree with me. Whatever it is that is yours, use it.

I also want to say that if someone asks you to something that is NOT your calling; do not be afraid to say no, but let them know what your passion is.  I have been on many committees and on some I have excelled and some I have failed miserably.  For example, I was a lousy Trustee.  On the side of finances I have no real interest; no passion.  Why did I say yes when I was asked many years ago?  I should have said no and instead said, that I would prefer to serve again on Deacons or be go back on the Music and Worship Committee. I should have said no because finances are NOT my passion.  But if it is yours, then you should follow that passion.  Use your talent where it can shine like the light of the world.

And if you think your passion, talents or skills don't "fit" into First Presbyterian Church, I say you are wrong. “Each of you should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms”  Your gift might not be traditional, but that does not mean you shouldn't apply it; even if it means breaking out of the conventional.  For example, I know that in this place we have many talented photographers. Many years ago taking photos during the worship service would have been frowned up.  But we have broken with that convention and we are blessed to have members of this church who have this talent and use it.  So do not be afraid.  Let your light shine in this church. 

# 5 on Rev. Schmidt's list “The spiritual and religious dots connect in this place.”

Too much of what we do as church is about church as an end in itself.  Some of that is unavoidable.  Planning, budgeting, and reporting are all things that life in “the real world” requires.  But they often loom too large.  People who enter our churches need to know how the church’s sacraments and worship enhances the spiritual life.

We are more than just this building.  When we are here we don't just "go through the motions."  This is our time to be with God.  Why do you think we have announcements at the beginning of the service?  There is important information to be shared, but it is not part of our time with God.  From the moment that the choir sings the introit or we open with prayer, we are to experience God's love.    Sometimes we forget that.  And that's why I think it's so important when we enter to have a prayer of preparation.  It's a reminder; we are here for a specific reason.  It is time to leave behind, even for just a hour, the drudgery of the rest of the week and to embrace the word of God.

Finally #6 “You have gifts and we are incomplete without them.”
The church is not a collection of Lone Rangers.  It is the Body of Christ.  There are contributions that each of us can make but there are other contributions that we can only be made when we work together.  The message of the New Testament is not “you have a gift, but so do I.”  The message is “you have a gift and we are incomplete without it.”

As it says in Romans 12:  Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function,so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Whatever gift or talent you have it IS important.  This church needs everyone's diverse talents to continue to survive and to thrive.  And we need to share those gifts and work together.  For together, we are the First Presbyterian Church.  Amen.


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